WHEELS

An Isuzu is the ex­act op­po­site of a politi­cian: It usu­ally un­der-prom­ises and over-de­liv­ers. The new Isuzu MU-X – a seven-seater SUV to com­pete with the likes of the Toy­ota For­tuner and the Ford Ever­est – is no ex­cep­tion.

go! - - Contents - BY JON MIN­STER

Jon Min­ster put the new Isuzu MU-X to the test – a seven-seater SUV to com­pete with the likes of the Toy­ota For­tuner and the Ford Ever­est.

Pull up in any park­ing lot in South Africa and you’ll see dozens of bakkie-based SUVs. Can you re­mem­ber who made the first one? It was Isuzu – with their boxy Fron­tier way back in 1998. How­ever, it was only when Toy­ota launched their For­tuner nearly a decade later that the seg­ment ex­ploded. These days, Toy­ota sells a thou­sand For­tuners a month. Other man­u­fac­tur­ers have tried to grab a slice of this very lu­cra­tive pie with sim­i­lar SUVs of their own – no­tably the Ford Ever­est, Mit­subishi Pa­jero Sport and Chevro­let Trail­blazer. Now Isuzu has joined the fray with the MU-X, which is built on the Trail­blazer plat­form. (New Trail­blaz­ers are no longer sold in South Africa since Gen­eral Motors pulled out of the coun­try.) The MU-X looks sort of like a For­tuner and sort of like a Trail­blazer. Noth­ing about it stands out or grabs your at­ten­tion. It’s an in­tro­vert. It even has an in­tro­vert name! ( The moniker ap­par­ently stands for “mul­tiu­til­ity cross­over”.) But like R2-D2 in Star Wars, a ran­dom name and a hum­ble ex­te­rior can be­lie an ex­cep­tional char­ac­ter… In May, I drove the new MU-X from Joburg to Clarens and back. In truth, the drive to the eastern Free State was bor­ing. I searched hard for some­thing to fault the Isuzu on, but noth­ing rat­tled, road noise was min­i­mal, cruise con­trol did its job and the built-in sat­nav got us there on time. The sound sys­tem was de­cent, the dash screen was big, cli­mate con­trol was in­tu­itive and in­te­rior space was good. My overnight bag looked lonely in the enor­mous boot, which be­came less enor­mous when I folded the two jump seats out of the floor. (Isuzu claims these are suit­able for adults, but like most jump seats in a seven-seater SUV, they’re bet­ter suited to chil­dren.) My one gripe was that it took four at­tempts to pair my iPhone via Blue­tooth. I told you – bor­ing! Then we drove a 4x4 trail be­neath sand­stone cliffs and that’s when the MU-X’s true char­ac­ter came to light. It lurched glee­fully through muddy don­gas and roared up slopes lit­tered with head-sized rocks. The 3,0-litre diesel en­gine – the same as the one in the KB bakkie – got down to busi­ness with that nuts-and-bolts snarl that Isuzu own­ers know and love. And the sus­pen­sion was a dream. It was im­me­di­ately clear that this ve­hi­cle would be per­fect for a fam­ily who reg­u­larly trav­els long dis­tances to wilder­ness des­ti­na­tions: places where you don’t want to get stuck in the sand and where you want the en­gine to start ev­ery time you press the but­ton. (Key­less en­try – fancy.) The en­gine might be an older model, but at least it has proven long-term re­li­a­bil­ity, un­like many of the smaller turbo-diesels that have found their way into com­peti­tor ve­hi­cles. That re­li­a­bil­ity – com­bined with a low-range gear­box and elec­tronic gad­getry like trac­tion con­trol, sta­bil­ity con­trol and hill- de­scent con­trol, plus a 5-star ANCAP safety rat­ing and all the cabin mod­cons ex­pected in 2018 – makes the MU-X a proper go-any­where, do-any­thing SUV. (There’s also a 4x2 model with the same en­gine and a cheaper price tag.) But will you buy an MU-X in­stead of a For­tuner? The 4x4 For­tuner has sim­i­lar specs to the MU-X. It has smarter styling and puts out ex­tra torque, but it also costs nearly R18 000 more. It de­pends on the type of per­son you are. If you like your de­ci­sions to be val­i­dated by the herd, get a For­tuner. But if you wear san­dals to for­mal events be­cause they’re the most prac­ti­cal shoes you own, get the Isuzu. Like R2-D2, it’s an hon­est piece of ma­chin­ery with a heart of gold.

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